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How to Ship Guzheng

You’re going to need a box.

How to Ship Guzheng

Jump to: Shipping Steps | Protective Cases | Boxes | End Supports | Airline Shipping

Guzheng can be moved great distances with proper preparation. I've sent guzheng through the mail twice and been on the receiving end six times. Some of those instruments traveled over 3,000 miles through the mail. Here's what I have learned.

If you already have everything you need then shipping costs would come to about $150, possibly less if you aren’t shipping far. If you need to build or buy a box add another $100. If you need to buy a soft case, add $50-$70 in the US. Hard cases aren’t usually viable as the cheapest I know of is $500 before shipping. All told then you’re looking at $150 in postage and up to $200 in other preparation.

Budget about 1-2 hours to prepare the guzheng for shipment and pack it properly plus the time to take it to your shipping center. Make sure you have someone who will receive it at the destination! Expect the guzheng to take about a week to ship domestically. It’s an over sized package and those take longer to transport.

Airline shipment is not feasible on paper but options may exist. See below.

Prepare Your Guzheng For Shipping

  1. Loosen the strings. Just a quarter turn or so should be fine.

    1. Prevents the instrument from breaking a string or over-stressing itself due to strange forces and temperature changes in transit.

  2. Remove the bridges. Put them in a nice container. A small cardboard box with padding will suffice.

    1. Prevents the bridges from marking the soundboard

  3. Place any accessories such as the tuning wrench, electronic tuner, nails, and tape in the box of bridges. If they don't fit, place them in a box of their own.

    1. Secure heavy objects, metal objects, and objects with edges like the tuning wrench. You want to prevent them from bouncing around and damaging other things.

  4. Place the instrument in a protective case.

    1. Protects the instrument from surface abrasions and contains the strings.

  5. Acquire or make a shipping box.

  6. Acquire End Supports.

    1. Prevents the instrument from moving inside of its box and protects the ends in the event the corners get knocked in.

  7. Place the wrapped instrument in a shipping box

    1. Protects the instrument from collisions and surface abrasions.

  8. Pad and cushion the inside of the box.

    1. Protects the instrument from punctures and excessive jostling.

  9. Final check - shake it. Does anything move around? If you hear something moving when you shake it something is loose. That can mean it will cause damage in transit. Unpack the guzheng, re-secure everything and check it again.

  10. Ship it!

Protective Cases

You have three choices for cases: A) a guzheng soft case or bag, B) a homemade protective wrap, or C) a hard case.

Shipping with a Soft Case

4a: Remove the bridges, loosen the strings, and place the instrument in the case and close it. Do not put anything in the pockets of the case - such items could be pressed into the instrument or bounce against it causing damage. Accessories such as the tuning wrench should be kept with the bridges in their own box. 

Shipping with a custom wrap

4b: The point of a soft case and wrap are the same - to protect the surface of the instrument from dust and light abrasions and to contain the strings. Cloth or some other soft material can be wrapped around the instrument. A waterproof soft case can offer that extra level of fluid protection.

Shipping with a Hard Case

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4c: Hard cases are a bit of a different story. Instruments can be shipped directly in their hard cases but there is some risk - the case itself may be damaged in shipping and some cases are not made with sufficient padding to prevent the instrument from bouncing around.

Some cases are both rugged and padded enough to act as a shipping container however those are rare outside of Asia. Common cases like the one above only have a cloth liner, meaning the instrument will bounce around inside. If you must ship by hard case then add additional padding to the interior so the instrument is snug (cloth such as spare bed sheets or towels can work). Wrap the exterior in a tight-fitting box or in industrial plastic wrap. You can get that at airports and some shipping stores.

Be advised that hard cases add weight and will increase the shipping cost. Also, abrasions and markings on the case are likely. One instrument I received survived its trip but the end of the hard case fell off shortly after I opened it. That said, I much prefer a damaged case to the damage a different instrument sustained when it was shipped in a fabric case >:-(.

Getting a Box

Assuming you don’t have a hard case then the shipping box is what protects your instrument from the outside world. Ask teachers or any music stores in the area if they have spares. Industrial supply companies sell ‘telescoping’ boxes that can fit guzheng but those companies require you to purchase 10-15 boxes at once. At $10+ USD you are looking at $100+ just in cardboard. That’s the same price a guzheng owner was quoted when they asked a shipping company to make a single box for them. You’ll either need to sell the extra boxes to friends or find a reseller who will let you have just one box.

You could also build your own box. The finished box should be 10"x 17"x 66" if you are shipping in a wrap or soft case. The box should have enough overlapping cardboard to close and secure it. My estimates come out to a sheet of cardboard 88” x 62”, give or take, or 4+ strips of cardboard 17”+ wide by 88”+ long. Appliance stores might have large cardboard boxes you can take for materials. I don't recommend making a box yourself but it is possible.

End Supports

End supports are crucial for keeping your instrument from bouncing around in transit. Guzheng are shipped with pre-formed Styrofoam end pieces. If you or someone you know receives a guzheng in the mail, save the end pieces in case you need to ship yours. 

If you don't have end supports you'll need to make something similar through padding. Your goal is to accomplish two things: 1) keep the instrument from moving inside of its box, and 2) protect the ends of the instrument in the case a corner is crushed or pushed in. Use soft material to isolate the ends of the guzheng and a thin shell of harder material to shield the ends from damage.

Airline Shipment, Air Freight, Air Cargo

Airline shipment is not feasible on paper but options exist. Most airlines limit oversized baggage to 80” combined dimensions. A full-sized guzheng in a hard case is about 67” x 8” x 14”. 67”+8”+14” = 89” combined. (Travel sized come in at about 77” combined so those could work.) There are reports however that some airlines will allow guzheng to be taken as oversized cargo provided the passenger pays an extra fee and waives the airline of responsibility for damage. Putting oversized luggage in the hold will cost $75-$200 each way depending on the airline and the class you are flying. At the upper end of that cost it may actually be cheaper to purchase a $400 beginner guzheng and have it shipped to your destination, or coordinate renting or borrowing one from the local community.

If putting your guzheng in the hold sounds too risky you may also be able to purchase a seat for the instrument and strap it in. The ticket will be full price but it will ride in the cabin with you. All airlines have the right to refuse to accept the risk of carrying any one piece of luggage. Call ahead to find out what an airline’s policy is and plan accordingly. You may also want to get confirmation in writing, perhaps in an email, to assure gate agents and air stewards that you are following their company’s rules.

There is one last option if neither of these are the way you want to go: Cargo.

You can apply for cargo shipping privileges HOWEVER: Cargo needs to be able to survive drops of 1-2 feet and pressure of 60lbs per square foot as well as some exposure to the elements. A guzheng has about 5 square feet of surface area so its shipping container needs to survive being pressed by 300lbs for 12+ hours. Shipping as cargo may be as cheap as $100 domestically but you’ll need a wooden shipping crate - an additional $200 or so, possibly more This could save you money in the long run if you travel frequently.

And there you have it!

If you already have everything you need then shipping costs would come to about $150, possibly less if you aren’t shipping far. If you need to build or buy a box add another $100. If you need to buy a soft case, add $50-$70 in the US. Hard cases aren’t usually viable as the cheapest I know of is $500 before shipping. All told then you’re looking at $150 in postage and up to $200 in other preparation.

Budget about 1-2 hours to prepare the guzheng for shipment and pack it properly plus the time to take it to your shipping center. Make sure you have someone who will receive it at the destination! Expect the guzheng to take about a week to ship domestically. It’s an over sized package and those take longer to transport.

Remember there are no guarantees. Sending any package incurs risk. One shipping company employee asked me "Is it packed well? Could it survive a drop?" "How high of a drop?" I asked. "8 feet off the back of a truck."

While my internal reaction went something like "It better not be $%&#$% dropped off the back of a $%&#$% truck!!" their point was a good one: no amount of money from an insurance claim can make up for damage to a dear instrument. Pack your instrument well.